Honeytraps a Real Risk to Military, Cleared Professionals


The social media manager at the Central Intelligence Agency, whoever he or she is, is my new hero. Not everyone can find a way to put an espionage spin on Valentine’s Day, but @CIA managed to do just that. The 82nd Airborne Division’s public affairs officer posted candy hearts with airborne-related sayings printed on them, which was funny, but still not quite as good as Langley.

Because Langley tweeted about everyone’s favorite entrapment technique, the honeytrap, where seduction is used to elicit classified information —either through developing the “relationship” or by blackmailing the target by threatening to expose their marital indiscretions. The CIA‘s Twitter feed even posted an extended thread about the East German “Romeo Spies” who, in a reverse-honeytrap, seduced women who worked for the West German government in order to enlist them as spies.

This message, while topical, humorous, and informative at the same time, was also timely. Because the honeytrap is universal.

As a case-in-point, there have been two Indian military officers arrested on suspicion of espionage within the last two weeks, both ensnared in honeytrap schemes.

The Group Captain with Two Online Girlfriends

Group Captain Arun Marwaha is a high-ranking Indian Air Force officer who was arrested on January 31 for violating the country’s Official Secrets Act. It seems that Group Captain Marwaha, whose rank is equivalent to a colonel in the United States, fell victim to what is believed to be a honeytrap operation run by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.

When it isn’t busy running the Taliban or hiding Osama bin Laden, the Pakistani spy agency likes to try to undermine its mortal enemy, India. And Group Captain Marwaha, a paratrooper who has trained Indian special operations units and has been working as the director of operations in the Indian Air force’s headquarters, posed a prime target.

Marwaha must not be a regular visitor to ClearanceJobs. If he were, he’d have read how these online platforms have become the new happy hunting grounds for spies. Instead, Marwaha befriended two women on Facebook and began exchanging what the Hindustan Times described as “seductive conversations with the agents masquerading as models.”

Marwaha has allegedly admitted to using WhatsApp to send at least five classified documents to the women. Unlike the Pentagon (for now), the IAF headquarters is cellphone free, and Marwaha was caught with several in his possession. Not surprisingly, the two women’s profiles were deleted as soon as Marwah was arrested.

As if that wasn’t enough…

On Monday, investigators from the Indian Army’s military intelligence branch arrested an as-yet-unnamed Lt. Col. based at a depot in the central-Indian city of Jabalpur. Suspicious financial transactions appear to have drawn the attention of counterintelligence officers, who suspect him of passing classified information to a female ISI agent.

Details are still thin, and reports do leave open the possibility that his arrest is for graft and not espionage, but two cases in two weeks is just embarrassing.

Lets’s just say it again, for the millionth time. Gentlemen, you are not James Gavin, who earned his first star a the age of 36. The woman you “meet online” is likely not interested in you for your looks. If you’re lucky, she’s just an identity thief. But she could always be a spy. After I wrote about online honeytrapping in December, I noticed several more suspected phishing attempts through my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts.

Stay on your guard, boys. The threat is real.

Tom McCuin is a strategic communication consultant and retired Army Reserve Civil Affairs and Public Affairs officer whose career includes serving with the Malaysian Battle Group in Bosnia, two tours in Afghanistan, and three years in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs in the Pentagon. When he’s not devouring political news, he enjoys sailboat racing and umpiring Little League games (except the ones his son plays in) in Alexandria, Va. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccuin

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